Conservative Home's debate blogs


  • DVD rental
  • Conservative Books
My Photo

Conservative blogs

Blog powered by Typepad

  • Tracker 2
  • Extreme Tracker

« Lord Kalms calls for leadership race to begin now | Main | We mustn't imitate Blair, warns David Davis »


Simon C

I thought you knew by now that you shouldn't believe everything you read on the BBC website! The speech had rather more to it than the BBC managed to grasp.

I don't have a transcript, but was there & took a few notes. A few excerpts - not all of it by any means, but here goes:

"We should hesitate before being overly-self-critical. This was one of the most professional, focused and disciplined campaigns of recent years.

However in marketing terms, people went for our product not our brand. They bought into our policies, but did not buy into us as a party.

We need to explain not just what we would do, but why we would do it."

LF emphasised the need to maintain the internal coalitions that historically hold the Conservative Party together - "we need to match those conditions to the contemporary political landscape."

"We need clear definitions of the role of the state and the role of the individual.

Freedom is the key. Freedom generates diversity, which generates innovation, which generates excellence.

The state should create an enabling framework, not become a monopoly provider entrapping those who are least able to escape. The poorest communities in our country have not been liberated by dependancy on the state."

LF emphasied that with freedom comes responsibility and proposed 2 tests for any new policy:

1) Does it increase or decrease the size of government itself?

2) Does it reinforce or diminish personal responsibility?

He made the point that Conservatives cannot assume that people understand the importance of freedom, or how freedom works to create stronger communities and services. "Each generation needs to be re-educated to understand what freedom is."

In his emphasis on personal responsibility, he stressed that we should not forget those who find it hard to help themselves. He also stressed the importance of protecting institutions that support freedom and responsibility.

At the same time, he said that the state should not intefere in social behaviour unless it impacts on the well-being of others.

He called his pitch: "liberation conservatism" (is that in the Conservative Home dictionary?) - if we want bigger citizens, stronger communities, and better srevices, we need to be liberated from state intrusion and dependency.

The overall tone of the speech was optimistic up-beat & generous.

(End of notes from speech).


So - more than the BBC understood, but some unpacking and elaboration to do as well.

Bob B

The editorial in the Financial Times of 14 April made a point about "general government spending in Britain is forecast to rise by an astonishing 7.5 percentage points of gross domestic product over seven years."

Simon C

"The idea that shrinking the state should be the main aim of Conservatives does seem a little bit 1980s, however. I guess that small government probably excites ideologues but very few practical people. Most people are more interested in effective government. Furthermore, many people - particularly vulnerable people, dependent on state services - will be frightened by Tory talk of 'a shrunken state'."

Oh dear! This is not the depth of analysis we expect from our esteemed editor. Rubbishing a policy by saying "it's so last year darling" is unworthy - let's address the merits of the issue, not whether it looks nice on the Notting Hill catwalk.

It's also inaccurate. A charge often laid against Margaret Thatcher in the 1980's is that she spoke like a conservative, but spent like a social democrat - in other words the rhetoric and reality did not match.

That meant that we took the heat of the rhetoric, without getting any benefit from actually pursuing a smaller state policy. Health spending went up year on year, yet everyone still thinks we cut the NHS to bits. Mrs T never got round to health education or transport.

Practical people interested in effective government know that you cannot separate the effectiveness of government from its size, nor from issues about whether government is more effective simply as a funder and regulator, or whether it is also effective as a monopoly provider. If we want to be serious about the effective role of government, we need to be clear about what government competencies are.

The fashionable amongst us can be reassured that many of Reform's ideas are very "now" and 21st century (see postings under "Modernisation debate"). Flat taxes, for example, are found in emerging economies and New Europe.

(BTW I am not yet an advocate of flat taxes - haven't had a chance to look at how they work)

The point about vulnerable people being scared off is a fair one - but really goes to effective presentation and explanation - we have a whole parliament to get that right. Part of it needs to be a clear and humane explanation of where government has let disadvantaged people down by trapping them in dependency and poor public services - welfare is in fact all too often "badfare".

In any case, Labour will always caricature conservatives in this way - whether we go down that route or not. We have to find a way of dealing with that. That means persuading people that our goal is better public services for all, starting with better access for those least able to find an alternative - that must be an acid test of any policy. Our rhetoric must be about the end - genuine access to better services for everyone - and much less on the means by which we achieve it.

Prudence Dailey

I want to ask a very, very big question—so big, in fact, that it rarely if ever gets asked (although the answer is far from obvious). The question is this: What are politics for? And my answer is: Primarily, to create a system of government which maintains order and encourages and enables people to lead good lives (as much in the moral as in the material sense).

Not by the wildest stretch of the imagination is this is a libertarian view, but it encompasses a vision of freedom because a life that is controlled by the state can never be a good life. I deliberately draw the boundaries of legitimate state interference very narrowly, because it is people—not the impersonal and amoralistic government machine—who are best placed to look after one another from the cradle to the grave, and to alleviate the suffering of their fellow man (a key element of leading a good life). Though well intentioned, the welfare state has often had the effect of creating more social problems than it has solved, by sapping people’s sense of responsibility, divorcing actions from consequences and promoting a culture of entitlement. The most vulnerable people in our society always suffer the most brutal hardship from such social disintegration: one of the most obvious examples of this (but certainly not the only one) is the way in which welfare subsidises family breakdown.


I think we are talking past each other, Simon.

I agree that a low tax economy is essential for competitiveness. I agree that state services tend to be less efficient than private services.

But that's not the point.

There is huge demand for public and welfare services 'out there'. Rising crime, for example, is fuelling demand for more policing - family breakdown is increasing welfare bills - lifestyle-related behaviours (including addictions) are increasing burdens on the NHS.

Conservatives need to be inventive in both the supply of public services - investing in more efficient and effective voluntary and private provision - and in cutting demand for a bigger state - by, for example, strengthening the family and preventing crime.

I agree with Prudence - we need to tackle the causes of social disintegration if we are to sustain a smaller state. The primary aim of a compassionate Conservative politics shouldn't be a smaller state but a stronger society. Strengthen society and we really can start rolling back the frontiers of the state.

Simon C

Fair enough. I agree with much of that, and what Prudence said too.

2 different points now:

1) A good example of how NOT to make the case for public service reform came from Chris Woodhead, reported in today's Times:,,174-1610345,00.html

He is reported as saying that he looked forward to the destruction of the state education system, and went on to say that he subscribed to the “apocalypse theory of public policy”, in which the state education system would have to collapse before real change occurred. He believed that all schools should be run privately, with parents given vouchers towards all or part of the fees.

This is emphatically not the way to do it. We do not have to condemn further years of our children to the existing failing system until it collapses altogether. How Chris Woodhead could regard that in any way as an ideal way forward beats me altogether.

What we do need to do is learn to make the case for vouchers in a different way that puts the needs of children first. We should take Labour on, and say that we accept that there are unacceptable differences in the quality of education that is available to our children. It is precisely because we want to break those differences down that we favour vouchers.

2) The other point is that there is a danger that the debate about the party's direction will be conducted at a level that divorces it from having to consider the direction the party might take on individual issues, and settling instead for a warm & cosy consensus. The similarity of the language being used by many of us might obscure the hard questions we need to confront.

One way forward might be to take some benchmark policies, and ask what direction the party should take.

One benchmark, important to many of us, is family policy. This can be looked at in several different ways, for example:

1) It's none of the state's business whether people get married or not
2) Politicians shouldn't start moralising
3) We need to be in step with the Britain of today, and many people are co-habiting outside marriage
4) By any measure you choose to take the life prospects of children are significantly enhanced if they are brought up in a stable long term relationship, and marriage is the best indicator of such a relationship
5) The evidence is that if you want to take social excusion and its symptoms seriously, you need to take marriage seriously. Conservatives can now argue further and ask: if you don't take marriage seriously, do you take social exclusion seriously?
6) Marriage fosters sustainable and responsible choices. You cannot have a strong civil society without it.

We don't need detailed policy propsals at this stage - what we do need is an idea of which of these approaches will find favour under a new direction and leader.

They are not mutually incompatible. You can find ways of fostering marriage without moralising. However, we should not be so over-anxious to charges of being hectoring that we duck the issue of how to create the conditions in which long-term relationships, most of which are marriages, can flourish.

The comments to this entry are closed.

About Conservative Home


  • Conservative Home's
    free eMailing List
    Enter your name and email address below: